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The state of medical education in India

Engineering and medicine are still the most-sought-after career choices in India, right from urban pockets to rural India. While there is no dearth of engineering seats and further scramble for allotments, medical education is still beyond the reach of an average Indian student. Besides the cumbersome process for admission, it's a hugely expensive affair.

If you take a deep look at the medical sector, all is not well and skeletons start tumbling out. It's not that we have so many medical professionals in the country to take care of our citizens. In fact, we are so poorly equipped. The numbers are mind-boggling. In the US or in Europe, a doctor works for 48 hours a week. In India, doctors work for almost 20 hours. In the whole country, there are not more than 2,000 cardiac surgeons to operate on a population of 1.2 billion.

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According to Bangalore-based cardiac surgeon Devi Prasad Shetty, India has a serious shortage of under-graduate and post-graduate seats. "There is a reason why we hear of corruption and scandals in medical education. It is because there are very few seats. If 10 lakh people apply, and there are only 60,000 seats, naturally a lot of money will change hands.

Now, first, let’s look at how a medical college is built. It costs Rs 400 crore to build a medical college. If you go to the Caribbean region, there are 35 medical colleges training fantastic doctors for the US in a rented 50,000 sq ft space. Why are we spending Rs 400 crore? It is ridiculous," says Shetty, one of India's best doctors.

The numbers are alarming. Statistically, 14 to 15 of pregnant women need a Caesarean section. That means we need to do nearly 5.2 million Caesarean sections per year. To do that, we need 2 lakh gynecologists; we have 50,000 of them or even less. Half of them don’t practice obstetrics, because they don’t want to be woken up at night, and then all of them live in cities, whereas 60 percent of children are born in rural India. We need two lakh anesthetists; we have less than 50,000. We need 2 lakh pediatricians; again we have less than 50,000. We need at least 1.5 lakh radiologists and we have less than 10,500 of them.

Now, look at nurses. We need two-three million additional nurses today. The attrition rate among the nurses across the country is 45 to 50 percent. The profession is dying because there is no career progression for nurses. In the US, 67 percent of the anesthesia is administered by nurses. In India, a nurse who has worked in the ICU for 20 years is legally not even allowed to prescribe a painkiller tablet. Why will people take up the profession? How can a hospital give her a higher salary? We have a serious problem.

So, it's time the government addressed the medical situation with utmost seriousness and redrew the map. The profession can't remain so elitist and out of reach for poor families.

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